The children of the Nazis created a fascinating generation. In art, they gave us the neo-expressionist and conceptualist movements, in cinema Herzog, Fassbender and Wenders penetrated the arthouse scene, and in music, they came up with one of the most radical movements in rock history. For a genre born of a narrow-minded ethnic slur featured in NME, Krautrock has done a generation proud.
The genre wasn’t characterised by style, but rather by anti-style. Although influenced by studies in classical jazz (rather the more bluesy western musical taste), the movement ended up leading to crazy experiments involving an unhealthy amount of Japanese hobos, computer speech software, synthesisers and enough LSD to drive Huxley bonkers. In short, it’s weird.
Thanks to Pink Floyd’s best efforts and John Peel’s open support, the likes of Neu! and Amon Düül II were lapped up by the hypocritically eager British public. Hours of moody jams, minimalist vocals, and radical experimentations in what the simple set-up of synth, guitar, bass and drums can do, were loved by the mid-twenties kids who were getting over their teenage hippie phase. Elements of counter culture, psychedelia and prog-rock cling on, but the jazz influence definitely took favour, leading to a more ambient instrumentation. Most famously (or infamously), Can’s “Yoo Doo Right” is a 20 minute jam constructed from over 6 hours of recording.
Over time the movement penetrated the mainstream. With the likes of The Velvet Underground bringing similar textural soundscapes into the forefront, German bands became increasingly well known in America as well. Tangerine Dream began doing soundtracks, most recently working on GTA V. Kraftwerk are considered one of the most influential pop acts of all time, and are still headlining festivals to this day.
Beyond influencing everyone from Ian Curtis to Thom Yorke, the genre is experiencing a rebirth, with obvious links to space-rockers such as Tame Impala, or more purist approaches such as Andrew Weatherall/Daniel Avery favourites Eats Lights Become Lights.
With something similar to the relationship between hip hop and the Civil Rights Movement, this was Germany transcending Anglo-American pop culture. It wasn’t just a bunch of music students hopped up on acid; it was an artistic cry for help in a time of unfairly inherited guilt. Krautrock stood as a defiant symbol of Germany’s cultural independence in a time when the country needed it most.